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Star Trek: Voyager – Workforce, Part II (Review)

Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II form an interesting two-parter.

A large part of this is purely structural, and down to the role that they play within the larger arc of the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager. One of the most common, and biggest, criticisms of Endgame is that the episode doesn’t actually offer any meaningful pay-off to the seven-year journey. The characters never actually get set foot on Earth, never get to come home. The final shot of the series is the ship itself approaching Earth, with no sense of what it was like for those characters to return to the home that they had sought for more than half a decade. To be fair to Endgame, the finale does open with a flash-forward that features a crew reunion decades after their return, but that timeline is erased by the events that follow.

Chakotay or the highway.

Season finales tend to offer some indication of what happens to the characters after the end of the television series, an assurance to the audience that their journey is over and that their lives will work out. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, What You Leave Behind resolved the Dominion War in its opening sixty minutes before spending thirty minutes wrapping up various plot threads. On Star Trek: The Next Generation, the future timeline in All Good Things… hinted at potential futures for the characters. Even on Star Trek: Enterprise, the much-maligned These Are the Voyages… featured the characters bringing the ship home to be decommissioned so that Archer could lay the groundwork for the Federation.

In contrast, Voyager just stops. There is no real consideration of what happens to the crew; Admiral Owen Paris never gets to meet his granddaughter, the Maquis never get their pardons, Janeway never reunites with Mollie. There is no sense of how they settle into life after their adventure, no question of what happens to them when they aren’t defined by their seventy-thousand-light-year journey across the galaxy. Oddly enough, this complete absence in Endgame makes Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II feel much more important in the larger context of the season.

Over the moon about it.

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Irony, Thy Name Is Gump: “Forrest Gump” and the Art of Earnest Irony…

Forrest Gump is a movie that I’ve never quite been able to wrap my head around.

On one level, it’s an incredibly sacchrine and simplistic exploration of the first fifty years of the so-called “American Century”, the turbulent second half of the twentieth century as navigated by a dim-wit with nothing but good intentions to guide his way. The eponymous character floats on the winds of history like a feather, a metaphor that bookends the film in a manner that is incredibly cloying. There is something undeniably condescending and overly simplistic in the notion of history in Forrest Gump, as a force that sweeps up men and nations without any rhyme or reason.

As such, it’s easy to be wary of Forrest Gump and its approach to history. Forrest Gump presents a very clean and sanitised accounting of the second half of the twentieth century, one in which there is absolutely nothing happening beneath the surface of American life, and in which there is no point even attempting to comprehend the myriad of forces at work on the country and its inhabitants. In this way, Forrest Gump plays as a trite moral fable. There is no point in even trying to understand the chaos that is the modern world. It is enough to be decent and oblivious, and things will work out fine.

At the same time, there has always been something lurking at the edge of the frame in Forrest Gump, beneath all the folksy trappings and the simplistic history lessons. It is too much to suggest that Forrest Gump has an edge, but it certainly has a point. Forrest Gump in many ways presents an avatar of the final fifty years of the twentieth century in its central character. The eponymous character is an embodiment of a certain American ideal, a personification of the American public that has been bewildered and confused by the speed and pace with which history seemed to move in that turbulent half-century.

With that in mind, there is something vaguely self-aware in Forrest Gump, something that perhaps simmers beneath the surface of the film. Gump is a likable and charming protagnonist, brilliantly brought to life by Tom Hanks in a performance that (deservedly) won him his second Best Actor Oscar. However, there has always been something uncanny in the film’s presentation of Gump as the character most ideally suited to the twentieth century, in contrast to supporting characters like Lieutenant Dan or Jennie. Forrest Gump is a movie that argues the only way to survive the twentieth century is as a fool and an idiot.

There’s always seemed something very wry and very cynical in that idea, buried beneath the film’s cotton-candy exterior.

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The Defenders – Royal Dragon (Review)

Royal Dragon might just be the best episode of The Defenders. It is also the smallest.

Royal Dragon is in many ways the runt of the litter. It is an episode relatively low on action beats, particularly given that it is sandwiched between the closing scenes of Worst Behaviour and the opening scenes of Take Shelter. It also has a relatively small primary cast. There is no sign of supporting players like Colleen Wing, Misty Knight, Trish Walker, or Claire Temple. The episode also confines most of the four heroes to one location for the bulk of the runtime, even if Jessica Jones gets to take a breather. It could easily be the “bottle” episode.

Hero shot.

Royal Dragon is also an episode that accomplishes relatively little in terms of plot momentum or forward movement. There are no major revelations in the episode, with a lot of the exposition covering information that the audience already knows from the other four shows. In some ways, Royal Dragon feels like a void at the centre of the season. It does not tangibly push the season forward. In many ways, the cliffhanger is arguably just a retread of the ending to Worst Behaviour; these four heroes, standing together against impossible odds.

At the same time, Royal Dragon luxuriates in this space and this emptiness. It is an episode that essentially locks its four leads together in a confined space for most of the runtime, which affords the writing staff the opportunity to have the characters slow down and process what has happened to them, to bounce off one another. Royal Dragon allows for the first extended interactions between various combinations of these four players.

A taste of teamwork.

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My 12 for ’14: Gone Girl and the most $£@!ed up people…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Gone Girl is a surprisingly playful film.

David Fincher is a director who likes to play with his audience, constructing elaborate and stylish labyrinths that might trap the audience as easily as they trap his characters. Gone Girl plays to Fincher’s strengths, as Gillian Flynn adapts her best-selling novel into a pulpy thriller. The news that Fincher and Flynn would collaborate on HBO’s Utopia is fantastic, giving television viewers something to anticipate; one hopes that the collaboration might be as fruitful as that enjoyed by Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Joji Fukunaga on True Detective this year.

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Gone Girl is a story about stories. Most particularly, it is the story of two people fighting to control their own narratives; to try to steer the stories being told around them. Is Nick Dunne a loving husband desperately searching for his missing wife? Or is Nick Dunne a sociopath desperately trying to cover-up her murder? Is Amy Dunne an innocent victim who has worked her way into the heart of the American public? Or is Amy Dunne a manipulative and ruthless (and ruthless) cynic who has helped to turn her marriage into a perpetual struggle?

Gone Girl is a very sleek and stylish film that is lovingly crafted and wryly self-aware. It is a horror story about a dysfunctional marriage, a tale about media fascination and a black comedy about resentment and revenge. More than that, it is a puzzle that competes against the audience, a story that seems to change form at any point where the viewer might finally have come to grips with what they are watching.

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Note: This “best of” entry includes spoilers for Gone Girl. You should probably go and see the movie, because everybody is talking about it. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. Still there? Good. Let’s continue. Continue reading

Avatar Backlash Backlash – Is “It Looks Beautiful” Ever Good Enough?

I’ll be honest. I didn’t like Avatar. Part of the movie made me uncomfortable. The implications of the whole “white man leads a bunch of noble savages to a victory they couldn’t have acheived without him” bit are worrying when place in the context of a metaphor for the genocide of the Native Americans. But, beyond that, it just isn’t a very good film. The dialogue is terrible. The characters don’t seem half as real as James Cameron’s wonderfully brought-to-life planet Pandora. On the other hand, I will concede that the visuals are stunning. They are breathtaking. What really amazes me, though, is the tone of backlash that most negative reviews seem to be generating, which can be effectively summed up with: just shut up and look at the pretty picture – who cares about plot and characters?

King of the new world...

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